Working with young people to overcome gender stereotypes

Project completed
A young man adds his handprint in paint to a collective charter.
Awareness campaigns and dialogue between young people promote non-violent behaviour. © Care International ©

Persisting macho stereotypes are a serious societal problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many young men display violent attitudes towards women, and these same young men are also inclined to neglect their own health. The SDC is changing attitudes and encouraging healthy lifestyles among young people by supporting a series of educational initiatives.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sexual & gender-based violence
Reproductive health & rights
Health education
01.12.2013 - 30.11.2017
CHF 700'000

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the current generation continues to bear the scars of the post-war years. Little boys grow up believing it is their duty to become 'real men', and this shapes their perception of women's role in society and what it means to be a woman.

On a more individual level, boys who are expected to be competitive, aggressive and above-all self-reliant are reluctant to seek help in staying healthy. At worst, they smoke, drink and do drugs, engage in dangerous activities or have unprotected intercourse as a way to distinguish themselves from their peers.

In short, persisting patriarchal values underlie serious public health issues and a culture of violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. To challenge these behaviours and change attitudes, the SDC has co-financed the efforts of NGO Care International in the country since 2014. This approach is based on the assumption that young men must be directly involved in efforts to prevent all forms of violence against women and to avoid becoming the victims of this violence themselves.

'Be a Man' clubs

Care International runs the Young Men Initiative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This project has the full support of the National Gender Agency and the services responsible for gender equality in the country's two constitutional entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. Both political and administrative entities have made mainstreaming gender equality in the education system a priority, as have educational authorities at all levels of government.

The project works on several levels at once:

  • In around twenty high schools, aptly-named 'Be a Man' clubs ('Budi Musko' in Bosnian) aim to bring together pupils old enough to reflect on stereotypes and to learn more about forms of non-violent conflict resolution. Other topics include sexuality, reproductive health and the risks associated with addiction. The groups explore different ways to change attitudes. In the city of Banja Luka, young people organised a flash mob to try to empower their peers and the general public to react when they see an act of violence.

  • It runs frequent national public information and awareness-raising campaigns as well as campaigns on social media. By 2017, 50,000 adolescents will be asked how they – and indirectly the people around them – view women's roles, what attitude they take in regard to their own health and what values ​​dictate their behaviour. The large-scale campaign 'React Human' got millions of young people to sign a charter against violence in their schools. The project also encourages parents and pupils to get involved in organised efforts to prevent violence.

  • Teachers, youth workers and the staff of specialised NGOs receive specific training on these issues to help them to support young people. A textbook has been created to assist them.

  • Ultimately, the idea is for all of these teaching activities to be systematically included in official teaching curriculums, which is why the team leading the project is working in close collaboration with the competent national and regional authorities. One of the cantons of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has already asked its 29 secondary schools to integrate the teaching programme developed by the project in their curriculums. Republika Srpska's education ministry has also approved the programme.

  • Finally, while working in the field Care International takes the opportunity to collect all kinds of scientific data about young people. This data relates to issues such as high risk behaviours and early parenthood (school-age teenagers becoming parents) and is useful for the continuation of the project.

Potential for change

Over the years the Young Men Initiative has shown the potential for change in every young person challenged to reflect on the way they act and think. It is some teachers and parents who tend to obstruct this process, which is why it is so important to choose the right person to deliver the project's message. Such change takes time and patience, just as it takes several generations to change sociocultural norms in a country such as Bosnia and Herzegovina.